Chef Melissa King on the “Top Chef” finale and her new culinary adventures

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AE: Yeah, I know that you and Mei recently cooked together for an event in San Francisco, right?

MK: Yeah, I’m working on this collaborative pop-up up in San Francisco and I’m hoping to feature guest chefs every month or so. And so Mei Lin was sort of my first go-to guest chef. I was like, “If I’m going to have anybody come, I’m going to have Mei, because, you know, she’s my girl.”

 

AE: So, hypothetically speaking, if you and Mei were to open a restaurant together, which I think you should, what would it be called and what kind of food would you serve?

MK: Oh, she’s always talking about, like, Canto-pride, and girl power—M&M (Melissa & Mei). So maybe something along the lines of: M&M’s Porridge Shack. [Laughs] Both of us grew up in very traditional Chinese, Cantonese, families. And we grew up eating a lot of porridge and noodles, so it would be something along the lines of a porridge noodle shack.

 

 AE: So, you’re working as a private chef right now, correct?

MK: Yes.

 

AE: Do you prefer that over working in a restaurant? Or is it just totally different?

MK: You know, it’s totally different. I’ve been working in restaurants since I was 18, and within the past year and a half I switched to private chefing. It really allowed me the freedom to do Top Chef and pursue other opportunities within the culinary world. For instance, I teach culinary and wine classes at a tech company. I think being a private chef really allowed me the opportunity to open up more doors. When I was in a restaurant, that was my life—which was great, you know, I miss it all the time. I miss working on the line, but it’s a different type of intensity. Like now, I basically do everything on my own, from sourcing the products at the farmer’s market, to creating the menu, to executing the menu, to the cleanup, I do everything. So it’s a different line of cooking, but I do enjoy both. I’d like to eventually go back to the restaurant world when I find the right fit for me.

 Chef Melissa King smelling green onions

AE: Speaking of working in restaurants, I’ve heard and read a lot about women facing sexism in kitchens. Have you experienced that at all in your career?

MK: You know, not too much. I think maybe when I was younger, back in like the 2000s, you saw fewer females working in the kitchen. At least, for me, when I was interning, I was one of the few females running the kitchen. But as I got older, I started noticing the trend becoming much more normal to have that and it’s great. I worked at Delfina and it was an all-female line. There were about seven of us girls just cooking in the kitchen, and everyone was amazing. I really feel that nowadays, male or female, as long as you have hard work and dedication, you can be successful.

 

AE: Additionally, has being out and queer affected your career in any way?

MK: Not at all. I think the culinary industry tends to be much more on the creative end. People have tattoos, and people have colored hair, and they’re much more open and free about who they are. Especially compared to the corporate world, where I could see it maybe being a little more difficult to come out in that sort of setting. But, no, I mean the culinary world has been very good to me, and I’ve been very open about my sexuality to everybody that I’ve worked with. It’s been great—very supportive.

 

AE: Great. So, as a chef- when you’re just hanging out at home, do you still make really, like, intricate food for yourself? Or do you sometimes just say, “I’m going to have a bowl of cereal for dinner” or something like that?

MK: I’m one of those chefs that still likes to come home to a nice cooked meal. It’s hard for me to not cook the way that I do. So my girlfriend is like, “Geez, we can never just eat a normal dinner.” It always has to be elevated or executed perfectly, so I do kind of uphold those standards. But I mean, we’ll eat sandwiches for dinner or we’ll have pizza night, but I usually go to the local bakery and pick up some pizza dough that’s made with like natural starters. I believe more in higher quality ingredients when I eat at home, but it’ll be simple! At least, to me, I guess it’s simple. [laughs]

AE: [Laughs] It’s, like, four courses… but super simple!

MK: [Laughs] Exactly, I always make enough food to feed, like, a whole Italian family.

AE: Well, as an Italian, I appreciate that.

MK: Nice, I love you guys.

 

AE: Thank you. So, What is next for you coming up after Top Chef? I think you said before that you might want to open a restaurant in the future? Is anything on the horizon that our readers should know about?

MK: I think currently I’m just working on a lot of collaborative dinners, so I’ve been flying around to different cities. I just got back from Detroit. I was cooking with James, Mei, and Adam, I just got back yesterday. There are a lot of future events with other Top Chef contestants that will be coming up in our respective cities. And, also, my own pop-up that I’m doing in San Francisco. It’s something that I hope can really just introduce people to my food and, in turn, I would really love to open a restaurant. I have a lot of business plan ideas that are kind of on the back burner that I would like to start launching. I think this year is just all about traveling, and cooking for people, and bringing my food to others.

AE: Great- well, if you come back to Boston, you know that I will be there.

MK: Definitely! Exactly! We’ll do a pop-up in Boston, I think that’d be really fun.

 

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